There’s a man
down by that river
in a chair facing that river.
I’ve never seen his face. He
sits close to that river, water
gushing at his feet, his beige boots
sitting next to him, waterlogged, also facing
that river. One day, I come down from my cabin
and one boot is gone. I dare not approach the barefoot
man, as he seems to enjoy his peace. He wears a hat with
a long brim, worn from the life of someone who has worked
too hard and too long not to enjoy the sound of water in his old
age. I keep visiting the man, and every day I do, one more thing goes
missing. The second boot, the hat, the chair, the shirt, the pants, until
there is just the man left. And that river. Finally, I approach the man, but
before I can talk, I become enamored with the music of the current. Splish-
splosh, it conducts itself in this manner all day, through the night, making a week,
filling the vase of a year. Before reaching forever, I sit on the bank and let my hand drift.
Home Is a House Cat
My mother used to leave me at her friend’s house. Her friend had a son my age. She thought we could be friends. Instead, he spent hours on the computer, while I learned the art of entertaining myself. I was eleven and wouldn’t get a flip phone for another two years.
For some inexplicable reason, I cannot seem to shake memories from being a visitor in this house.
The layout made it easy to imagine the three-dimensional blueprint. The living room had a slanted ceiling, making it appear much larger than it was. It also had a skylight that draped the space in the luster of a warm day. Comfortable, blonde hardwood floors, the type where if I had enough momentum I could slide seven feet in cotton socks, were handsome. The dining room was exclusively used for hosting guests. A small kitchen with a peninsula meant for conversations during breakfast doubled as a study area during exam time, perfect for pulling an all-nighter. A deck with a small yard meant for grilling in the summertime. Six or seven baby blue carpeted steps led up to the family’s living quarters: a master bedroom (door always slightly ajar so that a sliver showed a scene of a mom and dad resting, reading a book, watching baseball, or listening to rainy day jazz), the sister’s bedroom (everything in it was a shade of lilac), my “friend’s” bedroom (smelled like stale peanuts and the wall by his twin bed was covered in magazine cut-outs of punk rock bands and swimsuit models), and a small, shared bathroom. Four or five steps led to the downstairs den, a cozy second living room where the family gathered to watch Friday night movies. I lounged in this room. No one bothered me, while I embraced my invisibility.
Their house cat, Rumi, also called the den home. Every Thursday, on and off for four years, Rumi and I would share the space. I was deathly allergic to cats. Rumi caught on and sat on one side of the brown leather couch, while I nestled up on the other under a grey throw. We respected each other’s space. Instead of watching TV, I watched Rumi. His green irises were tunnels to a consciousness I could not deny.
It was snowing outside. My mother dropped me off after school. In the northeastern town we lived in, snow didn’t stop people from running errands. Even heavy snow. The heavier, the better. Made us realize we were alive. Running errands in the name of survival. Anyway, she dropped me off to the house with all the rooms. The shift in temperature, coming in from the lung-sharp cold into a warm furnace heat is a sharp-as-can-be memory. Everyone was in their modes of living. Mother and father in their bedroom, the door cracked open, as always. They were watching a laugh-track sitcom. The two kids were in their bedrooms idly in their own orbit.
Besides a casual pleasantry, I was left to myself. I went down to the den, expecting to see Rumi. He was absent from the couch, so I waited, thinking maybe he was in another room. Maybe he was by the deck’s sliding glass doors watching the snowfall or nuzzled up against one of the legs of the marble dining table, or at his litter box in the corner of the black and white tiled kitchen. I waited for ten minutes, then twenty, then an hour, but Rumi never came. Something felt off. I searched for him, ascending and descending each level of the house. I asked each member of the family. Each didn’t hear me, as if I wasn’t there at all. As if Rumi never existed. So I crawled in a slump back to the den where I belonged, hid under the throw, and peered out, counting the snowflakes fall, wading in the effortless time.
S.S. Mandani is a writer and runner. He owns and operates Saltwater Coffee in the East Village and West Village of New York. His fiction is featured or forthcoming in Shenandoah, X-R-A-Y, Storm Cellar, New World Writing, No Contact, Lost Balloon, Orca, Litro, Autofocus, and others, and was nominated in 2021 for the Best of the Net anthology. He studied fiction writing at The University of Florida and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. His novel-in-progress explores Sufi mysticism and a future hundred-year climate war that unites a dysfunctional family of jinns. As a columnist, he writes about drinks and culture for “Liquid Carriage” at No Contact and radios @SuhailMandani.
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